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Recent Headlines
a la Mod:

Domino is
a "disarmingly
straight-forward"
work that "pushes
us to reexamine our
relationship to images
and their consumption,
not only ethically
but metaphysically"
-Collin Brinkman

De Palma on Domino
"It was not recut.
I was not involved
in the ADR, the
musical recording
sessions, the final
mix or the color
timing of the
final print."

Listen to
Donaggio's full score
for Domino online

De Palma/Lehman
rapport at work
in Snakes

De Palma/Lehman
next novel is Terry

De Palma developing
Catch And Kill,
"a horror movie
based on real things
that have happened
in the news"

Supercut video
of De Palma's films
edited by Carl Rodrigue

Washington Post
review of Keesey book

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Exclusive Passion
Interviews:

Brian De Palma
Karoline Herfurth
Leila Rozario

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AV Club Review
of Dumas book

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De Palma discusses
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Jim Emerson on
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Deborah Shelton
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Entries by Topic
A note about topics: Some blog posts have more than one topic, in which case only one main topic can be chosen to represent that post. This means that some topics may have been discussed in posts labeled otherwise. For instance, a post that discusses both The Boston Stranglers and The Demolished Man may only be labeled one or the other. Please keep this in mind as you navigate this list.
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Sunday, August 25, 2019
NERDIST - PRESSMAN & WILLIAMS ON MAKING 'PHANTOM'
"IF GOD SIGNED A CONTRACT TO CREATE THE UNIVERSE, WHAT WOULD THE CONTRACT SAY?"
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/allarticles.jpg

Last week, Nerdist posted a great article by Rosie Knight with the headline, "Phantom Of The Paradise and the Making of a True Original." The article uses new Fantasia Fest interviews with Ed Pressman (via phone) and Paul Williams to look at the making of Brian De Palma's film, before delving into interviews with the makers of the documentary, Phantom of Winnipeg:
Phantom of the Paradise is unlike any other film. Sprawling and strange, the epic musical masterpiece is uncannily prescient, predicting the nostalgia craze, glam rock, and multiple other musical trends. The project came about after Phantom of the Opera became one of two options that Pressman and De Palma picked up after the lauded director became disillusioned with big studio movies. “I first met Brian De Palma in New York. He’d done a film called Greetings, a low budget independent film with some political undertones, and we became friends and he went on to start directing for the studios. He did a film for Warner’s called Get to Know Your Rabbit and he was very unhappy with the experience and called me from Toronto, I think. There was a producer taking options on Phantom and Sisters, and Brian said, ‘Get me out of here. You can get the rights so we can make it the way I want to.’ So we did that,” Pressman told us.

Though the producer preferred the strange vision De Palma had for the unexpected mashup of classic literary tales Phantom of the Opera, Faust, and Dorian Gray, the pair settled on adapting Sisters first, with a cast made up of De Palma’s housemates. “We had a decision to make about which film we wanted to do first. From the beginning, Phantom was the most exciting out of the two projects in my mind but Sisters was more practical. At the time, Brian was living in a house in Malibu that was owned by Waldo Salt who wrote Midnight Cowboy. He’d left it to his daughter Jennifer and she invited Brian and Margot Kidder and Paul Schrader, a whole bunch of people. So the easiest thing was to keep it close to this group. So Margot Kidder would play one role and Jennifer the other lead, and it was a simpler form to make. It turned out that Sisters did really well, especially in the drive-ins.”

After the success of their first collaboration, Pressman and De Palma began their passion project, Phantom of the Filmore. The reimagining centers on a young singer-songwriter, Winslow Leach, who’s overheard by a maniacal music producer known as Swan who steals the young man’s music. De Palma brought in composer Paul Williams to write the many songs in the film. “I was a staff writer at A&M Records, writing for The Carpenters, Three Dog Night, and a lot of great but kind of middle of the road music, you know, certainly not the Music of the Spheres,” Williams explained. “They opened a film department to try and get more of the music coming out of A&M Records into movies, and a guy there knew that Brian was doing Phantom of the Paradise, which at the time was called Phantom of the Filmore. I don’t know why Brian responded to my music because it was so different. I was known for writing what I call co-dependent anthems but for some reason, he really responded. So I came to it first as a composer and lyricist.”

That might surprise fans of the film who know Williams best as the evil, Faustian producer who steals Winslow’s songs and later tries to trap him into becoming the voice and mind behind his new music venue, the titular Paradise. “The first song, Brian wanted Sha Na Na to perform and I said, ‘You know what, I’ve got this band I’ve been working with, these guys have been with me for years, they’re my road band. I’d like these guys to be the band.’ I think this may have been the beginning of when he started going, ‘Ah, there’s Swan.’ They eventually became the Juicy Fruits in the film and the bands that they evolve into throughout.”

De Palma originally suggested that Williams play the Phantom and hero of the story himself, Winslow Leech, but the songwriter wasn’t sold on the idea. “I told him, ‘I could not, are you kidding??? I’m too little.’ And he said, ‘But you could be this creepy guy up in the rafters throwing things at people,'” Williams laughed. “For me, the idea of trying to perform with one eye through a mask…Bill Finley did things with that, there was just this essence to the character, something in the reading of Winslow that was so beautifully innocent, so touching. He was an amazing actor and it worked out because I got to play Swan!”

Filming Phantom was off the cuff and collaborative, a process that saw input from those around cast and crew, as Williams recalls. “The first thing we shot was the contract scene. Yeah, my manager actually came up with a line that’s in the contract that I love. The concept for where the line came from is: if God signed a contract to create the universe, what would the contract say? ‘All articles which are excluded shall be deemed included.’ You know, it’s perfect. So that wound up in there.”

Like most low budget films, the making of Phantom of the Paradise was incredibly intense. For the songwriter, there was no time to congratulate himself on his first acting gig. “There wasn’t a lot of time to really celebrate. I remember shooting all day and there was one scene that we had to reshoot the scene when I pull the knife from Winslow’s chest on the roof. We shot all day, and then I went directly from the set to the studio, recorded vocals until almost dawn, and then went right back to the set. They took my makeup off, put new makeup on, and then I shot the scene. I was so tired, I couldn’t understand me. And we were all like, ‘Oh, my God, that’s terrible.’ So we ended up reshooting it in New York.”

For Pressman, Phantom was the kind of film he had always dreamed of making. “It was unique and original, closer to a kind of Cocteau fantasy that I’m drawn too. Sisters was more of a conventional thriller; I mean, Brian turned it into more than that, but on the page, Phantom was just far more expansive. The idea of Paul Williams doing the score was just this far more ambitious and exciting project.” Though the creative team was passionate, they were unsure of how the film would be received once they’d finished making it. “I don’t think we had an idea of the impact it would have. I think we were really happy with the film and we were happy that Fox picked it up when it finished, which was unusual in those days. They were doing less independent films and studios were not in the business of picking up other movies. They paid–today it would sound like peanuts–but I think they paid $2 million for the rights, and that was a big deal then.”

Though the ambitious and audacious film was nominated for an Academy Award for Original Song Score and Adaptation, and a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score: Motion Picture, it was a financial flop that failed to make money in almost every market except for Winnipeg, Manitoba. It’s not totally surprising as the film was ahead of its time in almost every sense. From showcasing an overtly queer character in the form of Paradise star Beef to a story centered on male toxicity and the abusive nature of the record industry the film pushed boundaries and didn’t seem to be playing to any kind of mainstream audience.


In her final paragraph, Knight notes that Paul Williams thinks Phantom Of The Paradise "belongs on the stage, with someone like Lady Gaga at the heart of the story, bringing a new and updated vision of the parable to a whole new generation. He even teased that he’s written new songs for the potential production. Pressman revealed that a remake had been on the cards with [Guillermo] del Toro attached but had never gotten off the ground. Still, the producer is hopeful about the potential of the Phantom returning once again in the near future, especially as the film’s legend and mythos continue to grow."

TWO MORE RECENT 'PHANTOM' INTERVIEWS:

ComicBook.com Interview with Paul Williams
ComicBook.com Interview with Jessica Harper


Posted by Geoff at 5:49 PM CDT
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Saturday, August 24, 2019
GUS WOOD ON DE PALMA'S 'MAD MUSICAL DREAM'
'PHANTOM' IS "A DARK, VIOLENT MOOD SYMPHONY AS FUNNY AS IT IS EMOTIONALLY HARROWING"
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/plunger1.jpg

At 25 Years Later, Gus Wood enthuses that Brian De Palma "is an artist at his best when he aims for the impossible. By that metric," Wood continues, "the quintessential film might be Brian De Palma’s mad musical dream, The Phantom Of The Paradise. Equal parts baroque, funny, violent, and frantic, the horror-satire-rock-n’-roll-musical-comedy is the director’s masterpiece."

Wood goes on to look at Phantom Of The Paradise as a film that "brilliantly functions in two ways: as an exploration of the form (in this case, the form of the musical) and a satire of the setting"...

De Palma knows musical theatre and understands the internal logic (or lack thereof) in its narrative mechanisms. The film’s obsession with songs-as-expression and reductive treatment of certain plot points highlight this knowledge.

For example, when Jessica Harper’s character faces the notorious casting couch, De Palma turns this into a choreographed dance in the background. Starlet after starlet jumps on the couch, gets ravished by a jean-jacketed oaf, then rolls away for replacement. Like a stage musical, Phantom of the Paradise gives its audience all it needs to know in a few key visuals, more interested in symbolism than outright depiction. A similar treatment exists in Winslow’s persecution, harassment by police and escape from prison. These are necessary to the plot but irrelevant to De Palma’s emotional arc. Thus, he cooks them down into opulent signifiers.

When it’s time for music, however, De Palma grants loving attention to each note and gesture. He uses the music of the film to give insight into the inner monologue of the characters. De Palma’s musical numbers become exposition, not of the plot, but of feeling. He obliterates the subtleties of the human heart amidst blasts of synth and guitar.

When the wounded Winslow returns to The Paradise to confront Swan, he simply finds the mask and becomes the phantom. However, it doesn’t turn into a generic Vincent Price-esque slasher revenge film. Swan traps the scarred and vulnerable Winslow into another devil’s bargain for musical perfection, fame, and the chance to turn his beloved Phoenix into a star. De Palma is not content with a horror film, a musical, a comedy, or a biting satire. He wants all of it on stage, parroting the excesses of the story’s setting.

Satire of Setting

Above any genre convention or label, Phantom of the Paradise exists as a testament to its time. Paul Williams not only stars but also contributes his musical talent and “been-there” candor to the proceedings. This blesses the film’s portrayal of music with the kiss of one of its Popes. Every character glistens, baptized in the sleaze of an early, ballsy De Palma.

Like Paul Thomas Anderson’s love letter to the seedy porn of Los Angeles’ Golden Age in Boogie Nights (1997), Phantom is interested in the people, places, and things that made up a world De Palma longed for. Swan’s crisp suits, greased smile, and mirrored full of writhing women act as garish dreams of an outsider looking in. This is De Palma fogging the window to rock n’ roll’s hedonistic delights.

There’s also a dark side, as De Palma exposes the sadism of the business behind the music. Jessica Harper’s Phoenix is cruelly buffeted from humiliation to humiliation before her big break, her wide-eyed wonder at every abuse and opportunity acting as a first verse to the song she would later dance to in Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1978). Swan’s appetites don’t just limit themselves to sex, money, and fame. He craves eternal youth and the domination of others, the way artists can become predators when corrupted by the business.

Fade Out

Brian De Palma lends his usual idiosyncratic style to Phantom of the Paradise while also bowing to both the musical and the rock music scene as style elders. It’s a dark, violent mood symphony as funny as it is emotionally harrowing. We decide an auteur’s success by his riskiest endeavors and this is Brian De Palma’s masterpiece.


Posted by Geoff at 11:40 PM CDT
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Thursday, August 22, 2019
DE PALMA TO PARTICIPATE IN VENICE FEST EVENT AUG 30
MASTERCARD CONVERSATION w/DE PALMA & 3 ACTORS WILL BE LIVE ON FACEBOOK
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/mastercardclass.jpg

Best Movie reports this morning that Brian De Palma will take part in a special event conversation presented by Mastercard as part of the 76th Venice International Film Festival, which kicks off next week. The event, "See Life Through A Different Lens," will take place from 2:30pm to 4pm August 30th, in the Sala Stucchi room of the Hotel Excelsior, and will consist of a conversation with De Palma and three actors: Rossy de Palma, Valeria Golino, and Nadine Labaki. The article at Best Movie states that this will be "a unique opportunity to meet four leading figures of world cinema, who will share with the public the creative processes that nourish their innovative and non-conformist ability." The article states that the Masterclass can be followed live on the Best Movie Facebook page.

Posted by Geoff at 8:01 AM CDT
Updated: Thursday, August 22, 2019 6:28 PM CDT
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JEREMY SMITH ON 'CASUALTIES OF WAR' 30 YEARS LATER
"CRUELTY, AMERICAN STYLE"
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/cowinbetween.jpg

At Yardbarker, Jeremy Smith takes a look at the relevance of Brian De Palma's Casualties Of War 30 years later-- here's an excerpt:
Judged strictly on its artistic merits, there’s a case to be made that "Casualties of War" is the most acutely devastating condemnation of the United States’ ravaging of Southeast Asia ever filmed. De Palma was at the height of his visual storytelling powers when he took on this production, and he presents the moral quandary with a savage concision; at no point in the film are you allowed to draw back and get your bearings. When the squad’s most beloved member, Brownie (Erik King), is gunned down with a month left on his tour, the swaggering Sgt. Meserve (Sean Penn) takes charge. Also a short-timer, he’s outraged at his friend’s horrendous luck. When he’s denied the opportunity to blow off steam with a prostitute while on leave, Meserve decides to requisition some "portable R&R" — a young Vietnamese woman named Oanh (Thuy Thu Le) — to boost morale during their next assignment. Only Eriksson (Michael J. Fox), a relatively new arrival (hence his nickname "Cherry"), openly protests, though another member of the squad, Diaz (John Leguizamo), claims he has his back. There’s hope they might be able to talk sense to the dim but seemingly decent Hatcher (John C. Reilly).

Of course, when Meserve decides it’s time to make good on their brutal intentions with Oanh, Diaz buckles. It’s one against four. To his credit, Eriksson draws down on Meserve, but a very far gone Meserve delights in the standoff. "We all got weapons," he exclaims. “Anybody can blow anybody away at any second. Which is the way it ought to be. Always." Meserve already had a healthy distrust of the people he was ostensibly sent to defend, but now he views them as animals to be used and abused for his amusement. Clark (Don Harvey) is and probably always was a full-blown psychopath. But the rest of the squad still retains a sense of right and wrong; it’s just that for Diaz and Hatcher, their fear of Meserve supersedes their morality. They will participate in the gang rape. And when the time comes, they will murder Oanh rather than face the consequences of a court martial. It’s a disquieting numbers game De Palma is playing here, and according to the current electoral scoreboard in this country, it’s possible he’s being charitable.

Eriksson’s scorched conscience won’t allow him to back off on calls for a court martial (even though his superiors are desperate to sweep the incident under the rug). Whereas an Oscar bait film would portray his quest for justice as the centerpiece of the story, De Palma makes it plain that he failed by not fighting harder for Oanh when he had a chance. He tries to inform a sympathetic superior before they head out on their mission, and he threatens to take up arms against Meserve and the others prior to the assault, but he can’t bring himself to make the ultimate moral sacrifice. Should he have shot Meserve? Given the moral calculus crunched by De Palma (though not explicitly stated), yes. Better that than to be a shell of a man numbly riding the BART.

The absence of a conventionally rousing courtroom victory is the final subversive flourish of De Palma’s film. The only meaningful sentence dished out to the squad goes to Clark: life in prison. It didn’t stick. Three years after the release of "Casualties of War," the real-life Clark — a white supremacist — was charged as an accessory after the fact in the murder of African-American soldier Harold J. Mansfield. He served one year’s probation.

"Casualties of War" was a box office disappointment in 1989, but as a depiction of this country’s capacity for cruelty, it is startlingly relevant.


Posted by Geoff at 12:42 AM CDT
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Wednesday, August 21, 2019
TRAVOLTA - KEY THING FROM WORKING w/DE PALMA
SOMETHING HE TOOK AWAY FROM MAKING 'BLOW OUT'
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/blowoutstation.jpg

Kevin McCarthy, an entertainment reporter for FOX 5 Morning News in Washington, D.C., interviewed John Travolta last week while the actor was promoting his lead role in Fred Durst's The Fanatic. "Brian De Palma’s Blow Out is such an incredible piece of cinema," McCarthy stated in a post on Twitter. "John Travolta tells me the one key thing De Palma taught him on that set in the 80’s that has shaped him as the actor he is today. A fascinating answer that truly shows the depth & care Travolta has for acting. ❤️"

In that Twitter post, McCarthy shared a 2-minute video with audio of Travolta answering his question:

McCarthy: Fanatic: you're on the set, making a film, playing Moose. What do you take from De Palma? Specifically, from Blow Out, that you still use now? I know it's probably a loaded question, because there's a lot of things...

Travolta: No, I'll tell you, there's one thing. Brian De Palma said this to me, one time I gave him three choices of this, circa 1980, and I'm an actor who wants to allow the director to have input with my performance. And he said, "No, no, no. When I hired you, I hired you because I trust your choices. You tell me what the best choice is for this scene."

McCarthy: Do you have an example?

Travolta: I forgot what the scene was, but, it was something that was very weighty, and it was Nancy and I, and I just showed him three different ways I could do that.

McCarthy: Interesting...

Travolta: And he said, "You tell me what it should be." And it gave me the power to do what I'm paid to do, which is, design the character, make the choices. And it took that old adage of, "Oh, the director will mold your performance." No. He hired you, because ninety percent of his job is done by getting you correctly cast. That's his theory on it. So, when I take on a role, I take on a responsibility, and then I look for input, but only on a ten percent level. Like, you know, maybe like what Fred and I did together, where he was improvising with me. He helped me get into the zone.


Posted by Geoff at 11:59 PM CDT
Updated: Thursday, August 22, 2019 12:13 AM CDT
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Tuesday, August 20, 2019
TARANTINO ON HERRMANN'S SISTERS SOUNDTRACK
ONE OF THE 10 FAVORITE RECORDS HE CHOSE FOR MELODY MAKER INTERVIEW, CIRCA 1994
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/sisterssoundtrackcrop.jpg

"Seeing Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In… Hollywood the other night," Michael Bonner writes at Uncut, "reminded me to dust down this interview I did with the director many moons ago. It first ran in Melody Maker -I’m guessing it was done around the time of Pulp Fiction, so 1994 – and then again in the first issue of Uncut."

In the interview, Tarantino chooses his ten favorite records, and includes Bernard Herrmann's soundtrack score for Brian De Palma's Sisters:

“This is from a Brian De Palma movie. It’s a pretty scary film, and the soundtrack… ok if you want to freak yourself out, turn out all the lights and sit in the middle of the room and listen to this. You won’t last a minute. When I’m first thinking about a movie I’ll start looking for songs that reflect the personality of the movie, I’ll start looking for songs which can reflect the personality of the movie. The record I think most about is the one which plays during the opening credits, because that’s the one which sets the tone of the movie. Like in Reservoir Dogs, when you see the guys all walking out of the diner, and that bass line from ‘Little Green Bag’ kicks in – you just know there’s gonna be trouble.”

Posted by Geoff at 11:59 PM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, August 21, 2019 12:07 AM CDT
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Monday, August 19, 2019
16-MINUTE VIDEO - BRIAN DE PALMA - MASTERPIECES
CRISPLY EDITED 'MASTERPIECES' SERIES VID INCLUDES DE PALMA'S LATEST, 'DOMINO'
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/depalmamasterpieces.jpg

Gabriel Fasano posted a crisply-edited Brian De Palma edition of his Masterpieces series a few days ago on Vimeo, with the following description:
Few directors like Brian De Palma have explored so thoroughly the ways of narrating cinema. From the use of PoV, split screens, split-diopters, cinema screens, different types of camera angles, especially zeniths and low angles, perspective games, use of different artifacts to show different forms of vision: cameras, televisions, binoculars, mirrors, lenses, frames inside frames, etc. All in service of telling stories of thrillers, gangster and war, about obsessive, megalomaniac and voyeurist characters. This is the cinema of Brian De Palma.

Yesterday, the video, which is so up-to-date as to include De Palma's latest film, Domino, also posted to YouTube:

 


Posted by Geoff at 7:55 AM CDT
Updated: Monday, August 19, 2019 7:57 AM CDT
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Sunday, August 18, 2019
CASUALTIES OF WAR, OPENED 30 YEARS AGO TODAY
BASED ON TRUE EVENTS FIRST REPORTED IN THE NEW YORKER IN 1969
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/cow1.jpg


Posted by Geoff at 11:49 AM CDT
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Saturday, August 17, 2019
A.S. HAMRAH ON 'DOMINO'
AND THE APPARENT SIMILARITIES BETWEEN CARICE VAN HOUTEN & NOOMI RAPACE
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/copscrossfade.jpg

A couple of weeks ago, A.S. Hamrah included a review of Brian De Palma's Domino in a post at n+1. In one paragraph, Hamrah states, "The director seems to have contempt for both his leads," and I really don't follow where that idea is coming from. It seems more likely the critic is projecting his own such contempt on these two actors when he notes that Nikolaj Coster-Waldau "has a second-choice feel," and that "Carice van Houten, who exists in Domino like she’s waiting for each take to end so she can go outside and smoke, resembles Noomi Rapace in De Palma’s earlier film Passion, but why? In the past, the resemblance would have been evidence of directorial obsession. Here, it’s probably a coincidence."

In fact, De Palma had originally wanted Carice van Houten for the role of Isabelle in Passion, but she was not available during the planned shooting schedule. Noomi Rapace then took on that role. Maybe Hamrah is on to something then by noting a similarity. In any case, here's an excerpt from Hamrah's review:

Even in its partly realized form, Domino’s every frame is better than anything in Game of Thrones. In its less-than-ninety-minute running time, Domino links together CIA surveillance, terrorism, drone warfare, ISIS execution videos, and international film festivals. It all has a last-stand feel, in which De Palma excoriates today’s regime of easy-to-make but disposable images, which people, now all spies, use to brutalize each other. Scene after scene features piles of red tomatoes, there for critics to throw at De Palma so they can be tabulated and scored by review aggregators.

Politics for De Palma is a bizarre excuse for exploitation. This is one of his films in which he spares no one. Everyone is a torturer and a victim at the same time in Domino—confused, compromised, in for punishment. With some irony, De Palma sets up a Libyan terrorist (Eriq Ebouaney) as the film’s conscience. The CIA (in the person of the satanic-blasé Guy Pearce) forces him to work as a double agent, and the film’s plot comes to depend on him. Yet by the end De Palma abandons this downhearted terrorist without any more hesitation than he gave a minor character whose face gets dunked in a fry cooker.

A final scene, which could be the last of De Palma’s career, switches back and forth between a Spanish bullring and a hotel rooftop. The locations are linked by the threat of a mass killing and a camera drone, which De Palma uses to collapse the great distance between mass events and personal ones, a last gasp of mise-en-scène in the age of martyrdom videos on YouTube.


Posted by Geoff at 12:46 AM CDT
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Thursday, August 15, 2019
SUBMERGED IN CINEMA - KATIE STEBBINS ON 'THE FURY'
FUSION OF PERFORMANCE & FORMAL STYLIZATION MAKE THE EMOTIONS PALPABLE
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Katie Stebbins' most recent Top Ten By Year zine looks at her ten favorite films of 1978 (buy a copy at her Etsy page-- it's only $6.99). Brian De Palma's The Fury comes in at #3 for her (in between Terrence Malick's Days Of Heaven at #4, and Hal Ashby's Coming Home at #2). Yesterday she shared a "Zine Peek" by posting her fantastic essay about The Fury at Cinethusiast:
The Fury is the best X-Men film ever made, and in an ideal world it’d be considered a model for what pop cinema can be. But as Brian De Palma’s follow-up to his masterpiece Carrie it was destined to disappoint, in part because of how much they have in common. Both are based on novels about a telekinetic girl. Both feature Amy Irving as an empath who tries and fails to save a peer-in-need. And both enjoy playing at an offbeat pitch; but while Carrie does so within an unmistakable horror designation, The Fury is an ice cream sundae of genres – a coming-of-age supernatural espionage government conspiracy horror-thriller. Got all that? Add an experimentally self-reflexive cherry on top, and you have a film that audiences and critics did not, and largely still don’t, know what to make of. But to De Palma devotees (and some film devotees) it is an essential work, and an irresistible opportunity for writers to intellectualize De Palma’s relationship with cinema through cinema. It’s an exercise that often, for all its worth, makes the film itself sound like a narrative thesis. There is often a clinical disconnect that obscures The Fury’s entertaining and emotional immediacy.

Watching The Fury, the main thing you notice is that even through its early slower section it is blisteringly alive, as if De Palma has some unspoken knowledge that this will be the last film he ever makes (spoiler alert: it wasn’t). It is so in tune with its own wavelength, and with the emotional stakes of its characters, that the preposterously schlocky story feels like it matters (this is greatly helped by John Williams’s momentous Herrmann-eqsue score, by turns eerie, epic, and playful. “For Gillian” is his Harry Potter before Harry Potter). It maintains the same two-fold hold on me every time I watch it — a mix of uncommonly strong investment in the characters and story, and a near-constant awe at its formal power. With an opening set-piece that involves a betrayal by way of (who else but?) John Cassavetes, a terrorist attack, a kidnapping, and a shirtless 62 year-old Kirk Douglas letting loose with a machine gun, an “all-aboard!” line is drawn in the sand. Either hop on or get ready for a long two hours.

That ice cream sundae also contains eccentric pockets of comic relief. Scenes open on oddball peripheral characters, whether it’s the cop who just got a brand new car, the little old lady who delights in helping out a trespasser, or the two security guards who pass the time by negotiating trades of Hershey bars and coffee (it also has the priceless reveal that the elderly Kirk Douglas’s ingenious disguise is to make himself look, wait for it, old!). All that Kirk and quirk gradually give way to the more sincerely executed dilemmas of the teenage Gillian (Amy Irving in a performance that belongs in my personal canon), a new student at the Paragon Institute coming to grips with her increasingly cataclysmic and all-seeing powers.

It’s trademark De Palma to toy around with the nature of cinema, and as The Fury unfolds it begins to self-engage, reaching back into itself in ways that are still hard to fully fathom. Gillian’s telekinetic link to the missing Robin (Andrew Stevens) is depicted visually, including us in the intimate and exclusive psychic link they share. Since Gillian’s visions are triggered by touch and experienced by sight, she acquires information by watching scenes play out in front of, or all around, her. She learns and we learn through her. She becomes submerged in cinema — part of the audience. Gillian experiences harrowing psychic access to Robin, and through the immediacy of the filmmaking we are given that same experiential access to Gillian. This is cinema as the ultimate form of communication, information (surveillance is a recurring theme here too, another De Palma favorite), and feeling, seen as capable of transcending the confines of the screen. As part of his brainwashing, Robin is even shown the first five minutes of the film. Cinema weaponized and all that jazz.

The tricks in De Palma’s formal playbook make all this possible. The editing (at times flickering in-and-out like a flip-book) and rear-screen projection are used to emphasize and envelop. Characters are brought together by overlapping space and sound. The camera often tracks conversation by circling around characters, knowing that the more an image changes, the more we can percieve. A bravura slow-motion sequence turns the notion of the escape scene into a cathartic reverie gone wrong. It isn’t until the end that we realize the slow-motion is in fact stretching out a character’s final moments. It is the perfect encapsulation of how De Palma, at his best, uses pure stylization to not only enhance, but become emotion. Gillian’s shake-ridden fright and confusion, Hester’s (Carrie Snodgress) heartache and longing, and Peter (Douglas) facing the consequences of his quest, are all deeply palpable through this fusion of performance and form.

The Fury carries the devastating punch of his most emotional works like Carrie, Blow Out, or Carlito’s Way, but without the ever-lingering bleak aftertaste. It hijacks the senseless loss that came before with a vengeful ascendance so absolute it can only be called the money shot to end all money shots. And it wouldn’t be The Fury if it didn’t replay from every imaginable angle — wiping our memory out with pure orgasmic vindication.


Posted by Geoff at 12:00 AM CDT
Updated: Thursday, August 15, 2019 12:10 AM CDT
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